2018: The year of small and medium business SEO

It’s fair to say smaller businesses haven’t always had the best relationship with search engine optimisation. No matter how much time and money you invest, there’s always a larger competitor willing to throw more time and money at climbing up the search ranking.

Big businesses can pay for enterprise tools, hire the best search marketers and dedicate whatever time it takes to get the job done. Meanwhile, SMEs have fallen behind without having access to the same kind of resources.

However, the SEO disadvantage for smaller businesses is rapidly disappearing. Now, technologies like machine learning and automation mean the same resources are available to everyone and the budget constraints small businesses have traditionally struggled with aren’t so relevant. This is the year small businesses will start doing SEO like only the big brands have been able to in the past.

Let the algorithms do the work

As with any kind of marketing strategy, SMBs have less budget and time to spend on SEO than their larger competitors. Unlike paid advertising, search optimisation isn’t going to get results overnight and there’s a lot to be done before you’ll see any kind of impact:

  • Website audit
  • Keyword research
  • Audience research
  • Competitor analysis
  • On-page SEO
  • Source link building opportunities
  • Content strategy
  • Content creation
  • Analytics
  • Ongoing technical SEO

That’s quite a long list to get through, considering you won’t see any results at least three to six months after most of this is completed. More to the point, it takes quite a large team of technical SEO pros, content producers and creatives to make all this happen – not to mention the tools they need to get their jobs done.

None of this comes for free.

The difference now is that many of these tasks can be automated. If you take a look at the same list and cross out the tasks that involve data collection and analysis, it looks more like this;

  • Website audit
  • Keyword research
  • Audience research
  • Competitor analysis
  • On-page SEO*
  • Source link building opportunities*
  • Content strategy
  • Content creation
  • Analytics
  • Ongoing technical SEO*

* Can be partially automated

By automating data collection and reporting, algorithms essentially take care of the repetitive manual tasks humans normally have to do. You’ve almost halved your SEO workload, slashing the time and money it takes to get the essentials done. More importantly, algorithms can complete these tasks much faster than an entire team of SEOs can.

With automation, small businesses can process large volumes of data in the same way their bigger rivals can. The key difference is big brands have had to pay for teams of data scientists to do this in the past – something your average small businesses can’t keep up with. This is no longer the case and automation makes big data accessible to everyone.

This is the principle behind our Apollo platform, which uses a combination of automation and machine learning to make the most of big data. With Apollo, essential SEO tasks like website audits and competitor analysis can run in the background while your SEO budget is spent on other things.

Now, you can get the same insights as the biggest brands in your industry without spending the time or money it used to take.

Automating SEO for small businesses

More bang for your buck

With automation taking care of the repetitive tasks, more of your budget can be spent on the strategic and creative side of SEO. Instead of manually running link audits, for example, we can focus on creating the kind of content that’s going to engage people most effectively – knowing that these audits are still going to run in the background and alert our attention if anything is wrong.

It’s not only about saving money, though. It’s about doing more with the resources you have available.

Your automated link audits will be completed much faster than manual audits and run more often than a human team could manage. Which means any potential issues with your site will be flagged up and fixed before it’s had a chance to have a negative impact on performance.

Identifying where to invest

One of the biggest challenges for a small business is deciding where to invest your marketing spend. When budgets are tight, you can’t afford to waste time and money on a marketing strategy that doesn’t get results. This is especially true with small business SEO because it could take months before you realise your efforts aren’t making the right impact.

This is precisely the problem Sarah Raven had when they came to us. They sell a wide range of plants, seeds and gardening gear online but website traffic was low and they weren’t converting enough of it to customers.

Sarah Raven SEO

There was another problem though; the site had a lot of pages and budget was limited. We couldn’t afford to waste a penny of it trying to identify where to invest to get the greatest return.

The easy answer would have been to focus our efforts on the pages with the highest conversion rates. But instead we decided to identify the pages which had the greatest potential for conversions once they were generating a healthier stream of traffic. The thing is, it’s easy to identify pages by existing conversion rates but predicting the conversion potential of under-performing pages requires a large amount of data – and this is where machine learning makes big brand SEO possible for every business.

You can find out more about how we did this here, but the short version is we used machine learning to predict the conversion potential pages with a minimum of 70 per cent accuracy, using four different algorithms. This identified the dahlias category page as the biggest opportunity. We manipulated this data further to see what would happen if we improved the click-through rate by five per cent.

We then optimised the metadata to differentiate Sarah’s site from her search rivals. We focused our efforts on the terms for which the page was already ranking well with the aim of increasing click-through rates.

Sarah Raven SEO results

As a result, CTRs rose by 76 per cent and transactions increased by 194 per cent. Not only were the metrics impressive but the speed with which we were able to improve things on a limited budget was a great result!

The big takeaway here is that machine learning allowed us to identify the best opportunity for success without wasting time or budget on anything else.

The small business SEO advantage

Smaller businesses have the advantage of being able to adapt more quickly than larger brands. This means you’re in a good position to implement technologies like automation and machine learning across your business, much faster than your larger competitors. This presents a huge opportunity for small businesses in 2018 – not only by levelling the playing field but giving you a genuine SEO advantage, provided you move quickly enough.

Big brands will continue to have the advantage in certain areas, of course. People are more likely to click through to a known brand, for example, and Google knows this. Having said this, ‘Generation Z’ is already showing signs of turning its back on major brands in favour of alternative names, so perhaps even this could change.

What we do know is the limitations of budget, time and tools available to smaller businesses are rapidly disappearing. The SEO campaign we ran for Sarah Raven would take an entire team of data scientists to even attempt if it wasn’t for technologies like machine learning and automation completing the same tasks almost instantly. Strategies that used to cost thousands in wages alone and take months, or even years, to execute are now possible on much tighter budgets and time-frames.

There’s no such thing as ‘big brand’ SEO anymore. Small businesses can unlock the same insights from data as the biggest rivals in their industry and adapt to them faster. In 2018, responding to insights quickly is going to be one of the biggest targets for brands of all sizes – and this is where small businesses suddenly have the advantage.

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Kerry Dye profile picture
Kerry Dye

Kerry has been working in digital marketing almost since the beginning of the World Wide Web, designing her first website in 1995 and moving fully into the industry in 1996 to work for one of the very first web design companies. After a successful four years, Kerry moved to an in-house position for a sailing company, running the digital presence of their yacht races including SEO, PPC and email marketing as the primary channels. A stint then followed at another in-house role as online marketing manager. Kerry moved to Vertical Leap in 2007, making her one of the company’s longest-serving employees. As a T-shaped marketer – able to advise on digital strategy outside her main specialism – she rose through the ranks and in 2012 became the head of the Small and Medium Business (SMB) SEO team. In 2022 she became Vertical Leap's Automation and Process Manager. Kerry lives in the historic town of Bishops Waltham with her husband and daughter. When she’s not at work she enjoys cooking proper food, curling up with a good book and being a leader for Brownie and Rainbow Guides.

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